No more encores, please

Russell Howard - not averse to an encore.
Russell Howard - not averse to an encore.
Julian is comedy critic for The Stage and The Independent, and author of the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy
by -

How to end a comedy show? When you have taken your audience on what you hope is a roller-coaster ride of giggles and belly laughs, where do you stop?

I doff my cap to those who choose to end without an encore. An encore is often a sure-fire way to gild the lily and over-egg the pudding all at once. If ever there was a rule of the law of diminishing returns, it is to drop the curtain call, at least in terms of extra material. Bow all you like - if you were worth it - just don't say anything else and ruin the moment.

At least with DVD extras, it is something the viewer chooses to view.

The live experience is often better off without enforced extras. What could top the joke that you worked all the way up to? If you had trouble ending, why would more 'groping' be likely to help? Aren't you just digging more of a hole?

Ending a show is difficult enough as it is in 'normal time' - whatever that is these days. I'm skeptical of comics running over 80-90 minutes as it is, so when an ending adds another 20 minutes on top of that, it had better be worth it.

Because I am a grumpy old critic, I am particularly averse to those feelgood endings where the comedian does something heroic, or brings out something life-affirming that those less jaded and cynical might lap up if they have set their reactions to Pavlovian.

If the heroism and/or life-affirming moment has been built up over the show then that's great. Jason Cook's emotional shows about his family spring to mind. But, if you are shoe-horning in something to get an emotional response at the last minute, you're treading a tightrope. Sean Hughes once did this when he tried - and failed - to get his audience to join in with a Waterboys song.

Countless other examples have been buried in the recesses of my mind. The most recent example is Russell Howard whose Wonderbox show ended with an emotional double whammy involving his friendship with a young boy with cancer (who went on to win his battle with it) and his sister's new born baby, apparently birthed that night.

The latter felt less spontaneous than it was presented to be, but that wasn't the problem. What was harder to take was the rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone that went with it. This surely said more about Howard's love of Liverpool FC than his new nephew, who, along with sister and brother-in-law, were all supposedly waiting on the line while the song played out - accompanied by Howard and willing audience audience members.

Yowser. You see what comes of this encore malarkey? I say encore no more. They are footnotes that strike bum notes.